Patrick Gordon Walker

Patrick Chrestien Gordon Walker, Baron Gordon-Walker, CH, PC (7 April 1907 – 2 December 1980) was a British Labour politician. He was a Member of Parliament for nearly thirty years, and served twice as a Cabinet Minister. He lost his Smethwick parliamentary seat at the 1964 general election, in a bitterly racial campaign conducted in the wake of local factory closures.

The Lord Gordon-Walker
Gordon Walker in 1969
Secretary of State for Education and Science
In office
29 August 1967 – 6 April 1968
Prime MinisterHarold Wilson
Preceded byAnthony Crosland
Succeeded byEdward Short
Minister without Portfolio
In office
6 April 1966 – 29 August 1967
Prime MinisterHarold Wilson
Preceded byPeter Carington
Succeeded byGeorge Thomson
Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs
In office
16 October 1964 – 22 January 1965
Prime MinisterHarold Wilson
Preceded byRab Butler
Succeeded byMichael Stewart
Shadow Foreign Secretary
In office
14 February 1963 – 16 October 1964
LeaderHarold Wilson
Preceded byHarold Wilson
Succeeded byRab Butler
Shadow Home Secretary
In office
13 May 1957 – 12 March 1962
LeaderHugh Gaitskell
Preceded byKenneth Younger
Succeeded byGeorge Brown
Secretary of State for Commonwealth Relations
In office
28 February 1950 – 26 October 1951
Prime MinisterClement Attlee
Preceded byPhilip Noel-Baker
Succeeded byThe Lord Ismay
Under-Secretary of State for Commonwealth Relations
In office
7 October 1947 – 28 February 1950
Prime MinisterClement Attlee
Preceded byArthur Bottomley
Succeeded byAngus Holden
Member of Parliament
for Leyton
In office
31 March 1966 – 8 February 1974
Preceded byRonald Buxton
Succeeded byBryan Magee
Member of Parliament
for Smethwick
In office
1 October 1945 – 25 September 1964
Preceded byAlfred Dobbs
Succeeded byPeter Griffiths
Personal details
Patrick Chrestien Gordon Walker

(1907-04-07)7 April 1907
Worthing, Sussex, England
Died2 December 1980(1980-12-02) (aged 73)
London, England
Political partyLabour
Audrey Muriel Rudolf
(m. 1934)
Alma materChrist Church, Oxford

Early lifeEdit

Born in Worthing, Sussex, Gordon Walker was the son of Alan Lachlan Gordon Walker, a Scottish judge in the Indian Civil Service. He was educated at Wellington College and at Christ Church, Oxford, where he took a Second in Modern History in 1928 and subsequently gained a B. Litt.[1] He served as a Student (Fellow) in history at Christ Church from 1931[2] until 1941.[3]

From 1940 to 1944, Gordon Walker worked for the BBC's European Service, where from 1942 he arranged the BBC's daily broadcasts to Germany. In 1945, he worked as Assistant Director of BBC's German Service working from Radio Luxembourg, travelling with the British forces. He broadcast about the liberation of the German concentration camp at Bergen-Belsen, and wrote a book on the subject called The Lid Lifts.[4][5]

From 1946 to 1948, he was Chairman of the British Film Institute.[6]

Political careerEdit

He first stood for Parliament at the 1935 general election, when he was unsuccessful in the Conservative-held Oxford constituency.[4]

In 1938, he was selected to stand again in the Oxford by-election. The Liberal Party had selected Ivor Davies,[7] who offered to stand down from the by-election if Labour did the same and backed a Popular Front candidate against the Conservatives.[8] Eventually, Gordon Walker reluctantly stood down and both parties supported Sandy Lindsay as an Independent Progressive.[9] Quintin Hogg, the Conservative candidate, defeated Lindsay in the by-election.

Gordon Walker did not contest the 1945 general election, but was elected later in 1945 as Member of Parliament (MP) for Smethwick in a by-election on 1 October 1945 after Labour's Alfred Dobbs was killed in a car accident one day after winning the seat at the 1945 general election.[4] After the by-election, Gordon Walker's support in the constituency gradually declined.

Once in Parliament, Gordon Walker was promoted rapidly through the ranks of Clement Attlee's Labour government. In 1946, he was appointed as Parliamentary Private Secretary (PPS) to Herbert Morrison, the Leader of the House of Commons. From 1947 to 1950, he was a Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State at the Commonwealth Relations Office, and in 1950 he joined the Cabinet as Secretary of State for Commonwealth Relations, serving until Labour's defeat at the 1951 general election.[4]

As Commonwealth Secretary in 1950, Gordon Walker persuaded the cabinet to agree to prevent Seretse Khama, the heir to the throne of the British protectorate of Bechuanaland, from becoming its king – on the grounds that he had wed a white English woman, Ruth Williams, an inter-racial marriage that had upset Bechaunaland's neighbouring state, apartheid South Africa.

Khama had been brought to Britain by the government under false pretences, ostensibly to talk about his future, and at Gordon Walker's behest he was then prevented from returning to his homeland for five years, subsequently increased to a lifetime ban (although eventually rescinded by a later, Conservative, government). Khama said the unexpected and earth shattering news of his exile was given to him by Gordon Walker in an 'unemotional' and 'unfeeling' manner. 'I doubt that any man has been asked to give up his birthright in such cold, calculating terms,' he said.[10]

After the 1964 general election, following a successful career in opposition, Gordon Walker became Foreign Secretary in the Labour government; he had held the shadow role for the previous year.

Although Labour did win that election to end 13 years of Conservative rule, Gordon Walker was defeated in controversial circumstances by the Conservative candidate Peter Griffiths. Smethwick had been a focus of immigration from the Commonwealth but the economic and industrial growth of the years following the Second World War were coupled with local factory closures, an ageing population and a lack of modern housing. Griffiths ran a campaign critical of the opposition's, and the government's, policies, including immigration policies. Griffiths was also accused[by whom?] of exploiting the slogan "If you want a nigger neighbour, vote Labour".[4]

Despite, therefore, not being an MP or peer able to answer to Parliament, Gordon Walker was appointed to the Foreign Office by Harold Wilson. To resolve this unusual situation, he stood for the safe Labour constituency of Leyton in the Leyton by-election in January 1965, losing again, and was finally forced to resign as Foreign Secretary.[4] After a sabbatical conducting research in Southeast Asia,[citation needed] he finally won Leyton in the 1966 general election. Following this election, he served in the Cabinet in 1967–68, first as Minister without Portfolio, then as Secretary of State for Education and Science. On his retirement from the Cabinet in 1968, he was made a Companion of Honour.[4]

Gordon Walker retired from the House of Commons at the February 1974 general election. On 4 July that same year he was made a life peer as Baron Gordon-Walker, of Leyton in Greater London,[11] in 1974 and was briefly a Member of the European Parliament.[4]

Personal lifeEdit

In 1934 he married Audrey Muriel Rudolf. They subsequently had twin sons and three daughters. Lord Gordon-Walker died in London in 1980, aged 73.[4]


  1. ^ Oxford University Calendar 1932, Oxford : Oxford University Press, 1932, pg.268, 817.
  2. ^ Oxford University Calendar 1932, Oxford : Oxford University Press, 1932, pg.541.
  3. ^ The Times, 3 December 1980, p.19 col.6
  4. ^ a b c d e f g h i Pearce (2004)
  5. ^ Celinscak, Mark (2015). Distance from the Belsen Heap: Allied Forces and the Liberation of a Concentration Camp. Toronto: University of Toronto Press. ISBN 9781442615700.
  6. ^ BFI Annual Reports, London: BFI
  7. ^ Liberal History, Spring 2002 Archived 24 February 2014 at the Wayback Machine
  8. ^ By-Elections in British Politics
  9. ^ Eaden, James; Renton, David (2002). The Communist Party of Great Britain since 1920. Palgrave. p. 67. ISBN 0-333-94968-4.
  10. ^ Williams, Susan. 2006. Colour Bar. Allen Lane. p 125-126
  11. ^ "No. 46352". The London Gazette. 24 September 1974. p. 7918.

Publications by Patrick Gordon WalkerEdit

  • Gordon Walker, P. C. (1937). Capitalism and the Reformation. in Economic History Review.
  • Gordon Walker, P. C. (1939). An Outline of Man's History. London: N.C.L.C. Publishing Society.
  • Restatement of Liberty. London: Hutchinson. 1951.
  • The Lid Lifts: An Account of the Author's Experiences During Two Visits to Occupied Germany in the Spring of 1945. London: Victor Gollancz Ltd. 1945.
  • The Commonwealth. London: Secker & Warburg. 1962.
  • The Cabinet. London: Cape. 1970. ISBN 0-224-61819-9.
  • Robert Pearce, ed. (c. 1991). Patrick Gordon Walker: Political Diaries 1932–1971. London: Historians' Press. ISBN 1-872273-05-X.


External linksEdit

Parliament of the United Kingdom
Preceded by Member of Parliament
for Smethwick

Succeeded by
Preceded by Member of Parliament
for Leyton

Succeeded by
Political offices
Preceded by Secretary of State for Commonwealth Relations
Succeeded by
Preceded by Shadow Home Secretary
Succeeded by
Preceded by Shadow Foreign Secretary
Succeeded by
Preceded by Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs
Succeeded by
Preceded by Minister without Portfolio
Succeeded by
Preceded by Secretary of State for Education and Science
Succeeded by